Caution, User at Work
“Don’t let your daughters grow up to be vulnerable.”
By Julie Eberhart Painter
Every young woman in love with Rett Butler instead of Ashley Wilkes should read seductions scenes and recognize that they precede disaster. No one wants to be Hester Prynne of Scarlet Letter fame.
Once such scene appears in my newest novel, Tangled Web, set in 1935. Jack O’Brien is an over-privileged user. My heroine, Catherine, is his employee. He’s already in a position of power when he scoffs at Catherine for not knowing the difference between mink and sable.
She’s awed by his well appointed, quiet bedroom with soft carpet and no squeaky hinges, a harsh contrast to her own life that is filled with imperfections.
In this scene, Catherine doesn’t hear Jack’s derision. Like so many vulnerable women, she hears what she wants to hear. Note, he never says he loves her. He’s kind but distant and very much interested in getting her into bed.
A hush fell over them as they pushed through the door. The lush Oriental rug deadened the sound as it had the night she first saw Mary lying in the double bed. The lined draperies were pushed back, allowing the waning afternoon light to radiate into the room. The bed, its spread matching the curtains, was made up tight. The closets stood open, the rose sachet fragrance gone. Jack had placed packing boxes around the room in anticipation of her agreeing to this chore. Did he know she’d be willing? Catherine approached the largest closet, remembering the night that Mary had offered her the red dress.
“She told me she had small feet.”
“Yes. No point in saving the shoes for you.” He laughed, pointing to the shoe rack below. “Let’s put them into these two boxes first.”
They worked for almost an hour. Catherine took the dresses off the hangers and folded them in tissue paper prepared for the boxes. Jack sealed and marked each box as it filled. Eventually, she came to a cloth bag that held Mary’s heavy fur coat. She unsnapped the top and peered in. Pulling it free, she ran her hand over the luxurious dark sienna and black fur. “A genuine mink. This is gorgeous. You shouldn’t give this to charity unless you plan to auction it for a monetary donation.”
“It’s sable, Catherine. Would you like to have it? It matches your hair.”
“I couldn’t! It’s not proper. Anyway, it would make my other clothes look out of place.”
“Um.” He stood back, his eyes roaming over her, appraising her figure. “I think it’s perfect for you. Try it on.”
Catherine blushed, but slipped the silk brocade-lined fur over her arms and shoulders. She stood, self-conscious as it tickled her knees. It was a perfect fit and enveloped her like cream in a warm bath.
“Mary said it took someone with more color in her face to wear it. She was right.” He licked his lips. “She usually wore the squirrel cape. You must keep that coat.”
Catherine shook her head and began removing it. Jack raced across the room and grabbed her elbows. “Leave it.” He was panting, perhaps from the sprint.
She smoothed the sleeves, tears beginning in her eyes. “It’s beautiful,” she breathed, “but I can’t take Mary’s lovely coat.”
He looked down at her. “You deserve it.” He touched her lips with the tips of his fingers, then encircled her waist and pulled her close to him. “You’re a delicious morsel in this coat,” he said hoarsely. “You would be beautiful, in it or out of it.” He slid his moist lips down her neck and kissed his way back up to her lips. Then he took her breasts in his hands, kneading them, making them swell. Her nipples were marbles. She gasped and sagged in his arms. He caught her, lifting her onto the bed. His hands traced the line of her legs; his fingers worked at her garters.
Her back arched.
“This is wrong, Jack. I’m your employee, and you’re out of your mind with grief.”
“I’m out of my mind with...you,” he growled. He lay down close to her and buried his face in the crook of her neck, trembling. “I know it’s wrong.”
She felt his tears soaking through the collar of her blouse.
“I can’t stop,” he said. “I want you.”
She rolled away from him, and slipped off the bed, but he caught her hand, kissing her palm. “Forgive me. It’s just that I’m so dammed lonely.”
She nodded and sat on the edge of the bed, her feet to the floor. She smoothed her blouse and pulled her skirt over her knees. “That’s no excuse,” she said primly.
He sat beside her, his head in his hands. “I’m sorry, Cath. I’m lost. My marriage wasn’t real, just a sham for convenience. Mary deserved better. God knows she tried to please me, but my heart strayed, distracted by you. I’m crazy for you. I know it’s too soon.”
Catherine’s heart stopped for a beat before falling over itself. Had she heard correctly? “You... you care for me? You love me?”
“Since I first walked though the factory and saw you bent over your machine, your hair tracing the line of your face, I knew that you were special. You were so intent. The others looked up, put you kept that pretty nose of yours bent to the task, dedicated. I fell for you then and there.”
Catherine took her elbows in her hands and shimmied back on the bed, extending her feet, examining her slender ankles and trying to decide if this was what she wanted. “I don’t know what to say, Jack. We can’t be seen together this soon. It’s not proper. The first time the servants are gone and here I am sitting with you on Mary’s bed... I’m not... It’s not... I’ve never—”
“You’re innocent. Pure.” He kissed her cheek and ran his tongue around her earlobe.
“Then I want to show you what real love is between a man and a woman.”
Catherine felt her will dissolving. Wasn’t this what she had dreamed of, what she had wanted, what her body was telling her? She nodded and looked up at his handsome face. “But not here—not in Mary’s bed,” she said.
He stood and took her hand. “Leave your clothes but bring the coat.”
She shucked her clothes and reached for the fur to follow him downstairs. He flung open the door to the yellow guestroom where Catherine had stacked the coats the night of the party. It was much smaller than the master bedroom. A mixture of Bay Rum and apple blossoms made the room cozy and intimate.
“I’ve been sleeping in here. Mary never came into this room. She didn’t like the color; the yellow striped wallpaper washed her out.” He turned toward Catherine, devouring her with his eyes. “You absolutely glow in it. You belong in this room.”
As a guest, she wondered, or...?
He turned on the radio and pulled the bedspread off, dropping it in a heap on a chair. “Someone to Watch Over Me” played into the room.
Catherine swallowed. “I... I don’t know.”
“You belong with me now.” Jack dropped to his knees and embraced her around the waist, circling her hips and stomach, fingering her waist. “You have the tiniest waist I’ve ever seen.” He massaged her thighs and breathed onto her stomach. Her breasts tensed in the chill room.
“It’s cold in here.”
“We diverted the heat to the other parts of the house. When I’ve finished undressing you put the coat on and lie down on the bed.
Jack’s words sounded like a command. She did as asked, not really sure what he would do next. She slipped on the coat, pulling it around her, crossing the generous folds to cover her nakedness. Her face burned.
He lay down next to her, smothering her with kisses and murmuring, almost singing with the music, one of her favorites. Before she could move, he was inside the coat, pressing into her, warming her body with his rough shirt and hard, muscled skin. His pants had disappeared. She could tell that he was a big man, determined, with his own purpose, bent on making love to her. She gave herself up to her feelings and returned his love. The sharp pain was quickly gone, and a warm glow replaced it as her desire climaxed in tender release.
When he was done, he rolled off and stood. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. You really were... innocent.”
She sat up, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I told you that. Didn’t you believe me?”
“Girls always say that.”
All her ambitions crashed around her. Pieces of her life detached from her plans. Nothing but shame remained. She’d slept with Mary’s husband.
“We’ll just pretend this never happened,” Jack said.
“How can I pretend? I... I love you, Jack. I wouldn’t have let you... if I... hadn’t. What if I get... you know... caught? What if I get a baby?”
“It never happens your first time, Cath. Don’t even think about it. But there can’t be another time. This was a mistake. We’ll have to stay away from each other, at least for a while. You’re a temptation I can’t afford. I’ll hire another secretary—”
“No! I can work out of the mill office when you’re not there. You can leave me assignments.” She knew that if she had no reason to see him, she’d have no chance with him later.
“I suppose we could arrange that. I don’t want to ruin your life. Are you all right?”
“I guess.” Catherine blew out a long sigh. “You don’t think I’m bad, do you. I just didn’t expect...”
He took her in his arms gently stroking her in the coat. “Shush, my poor Catherine. You’re not a bad girl. You’re still sweet, and innocent in your way. You gave me comfort when I needed it.”
“Is that all you felt? Comfort?”
“Not like that sounds. But it’s natural for two people in love to express themselves together. Don’t question it.” He pulled the coat up under her chin, smiling. “You must keep the coat.”
“I can’t. It would be like payment. I’d feel like a... a kept woman. A prostitute,” she whispered.
Julie Eberhart Painter is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, in which she practices both medicine and law without licenses, and Tangled Web, a story close to her heart. Coming in October 2011, Kill Fee
See Julie’s Web site at www.books-jepainter.com The World, the Flesh and the Devil, American Castles and Tahitian Destiny are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble Her nonfiction e-book, From the Inside Out, a volunteer looks at staying motivated, is considered a best seller on the Net. Julie’s flash fiction stories can be read online at www.bewilderingstories.com .